Moschus fuscusdusky musk deer

Geographic Range

Moschus fuschus is found in the southeastern Xizang and western Yunnan portions of China. This species is also found in northern Burma and southeastern Tibet. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Nowak, 1999; Wilson and Reeder, 1993; Yang, et al., 2002)


Musk deer are found in moderately steep alpine and sub-alpine forested regions, often near rocky areas and treeline. Moschus fuscus is commonly found at elevations between 2,600 and 3,600 m. (Nowak, 1999; Yang, et al., 2002)

  • Range elevation
    2600 to 3600 m
    8530.18 to 11811.02 ft

Physical Description

Moschus fuscus resembles a small deer, with weights varying between 10 and 15 kg, and lengths varying between 70 and 100 cm. Hind legs are notably longer and more robust than front legs, allowing for saltatorial motion. Males and females are similar in size, and neither have antlers. Both sexes have thick, coarse hair which provides protection from harsh alpine climates. Pelage is generally brown, although there is a good deal of variation in base color, as well in vibrancy of markings such as spotting. Hair is generally paler ventrally and on inner surfaces of legs. There is a yearly molt. Males show elongate unrooted upper canines, which form curved sabers that can extend well below the lower jaw at maturity. The upper canines of females are always present but do not extend out of the mouth. The dental formula is (i0/1 c1/1 p3/3 m3/3)=34. Eyes and ears are large and well developed. Moschus does not have the facial glands of most Cervids, and unlike most Cervids, also posesses a gall bladder. Mature males have a musk gland, located ventrally between navel and genetalia, which is absent in females and juveniles. Females have two mammae. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Nowak, 1999; Yang, et al., 2002)

  • Range mass
    10 to 15 kg
    22.03 to 33.04 lb
  • Range length
    70 to 100 cm
    27.56 to 39.37 in


While there is little known about M. fuscus in particular, other musk deer have been known to come into estrus from the end of November and into December, over a period of about three to four weeks. Males mate with multiple females. In Moschus moschiferus, males scent mark and defend a territory during breeding season. The scent gland present on male M. fuscus implies that they probably engage in similar behavior. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Nowak, 1999; Wilson and Reeder, 1993)

Gestation lasts from 185 to 195 days. Parturition is in June and July, and females usually have one to two young. Although data from M. fuscus are not available, it is reasonable to assume that development of the young is similar to that seen in other members of the genus. Moschus young are spotted at birth, and typically weigh around 500 g. Weaning occurs between 3 and 4 months of age, and full size is reached around the age of 6 months. Because of this, we can assume that it is possible for females to produce young annually. Both males and females apparently reach sexual maturity around 18 months of age. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Nowak, 1999; Wilson and Reeder, 1993)

  • Breeding interval
    Females probably produce young annually.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding takes place in November and December.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Range gestation period
    185 to 195 days
  • Range weaning age
    3 to 4 months

Parental care in this species has not been described extensively. Artiodactyls are generally precocial. Females nurse their young for approximately 3 to 4 months. During this time, it is likely that the young travel with the female as she forages. Females probably provide defense for their young as well as grooming. It is not known whether young continue to associate with their mother past weaning. The role of males in parental care is unknown. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


There is little known about the lifespan of M. fuscus although other captive Moschus have been found to live up to 20 years in captivity. (Nowak, 1999)


Moschus species are typically solitary. It is rare to see more than two together, except in cases of a female with young, and males especially are territorial. These animals are mostly active at dawn, dusk, and at night. Communication is generally through scent markings from caudal, interdigital, and musk glands, as well as through urination and defication. Some species have been known to urinate and deficate in common latrines during the autumn and winter months. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Nowak, 1999; Wilson and Reeder, 1993; Yang, et al., 2002)

  • Range territory size
    200,000 to 300,000 m^2

Home Range

Males scent mark and defend territories of up to 300 hectares, and male territories generally encompass the territories of multiple females. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Nowak, 1999)

Communication and Perception

It is reported that Moschus communicates through scent from interdigital, caudal, and musk glands, as well as through urination and defecation. Musk deer also make a low, hissing noise, and fight when put together in ill fated attempts to raise them commercially. Their large ears and eyes suggest keen hearing and eyesight, and reliance on these senses. Although not specifically reported, we can infer that tactile communication is important, especially between mothers and their offspring and mates. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Nowak, 1999; Shusheng and Shila, 2000; Wilson and Reeder, 1993; Yang, et al., 2002)

Food Habits

Moschus fuscus is an herbivorous ruminant, and has been known to consme grass, forbes, and lichens, as well as some browse. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Nowak, 1999)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • bryophytes
  • lichens


The principle predator of musk deer is Homo sapiens, which hunts these animals for their musk glands. Lynx, wolverine , and yellow-throated marten have been known to prey on young musk deer. One study found musk deer remains in 43% of lynx feces. Musk deer may evade their predators by remaining cryptic and using the dense vegetation they inhabit to hide. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Shusheng and Shila, 2000; Yang, et al., 2002)

Ecosystem Roles

The role of these animals within their ecosystem has not been reported. We may reasonably infer that they have some impact on vegetation through their foraging behavior. They are also important in food webs, as evidenced by the high number of lynx scats found with musk deer remains.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The musk glands of mature male Moschus have been of historic and current importance for use in soaps and perfumes. Males are hunted and trapped for musk, which, on the 1986 international market, was worth more than gold at U.S. $45,000 per kilogram. Musk has also been used as a component of traditional medicine in China, as a stimulant and as a sedative. (Nowak, 1999; Yang, et al., 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

It is unlikely that these shy deer have any negative impact on humans.

Conservation Status

It is assumed that M. fuscus is very rare, although the population size is unknown, as the distribution is limited. The species is listed in CITES Appendix 1.

All musk deer have been hunted extensively for the musk glands of the mature males. During the 1960s when musk prices were high, the annual kill rate in China was about 500,000 animals. This overexploitation led to an extreme populaion crash, with the estimated number of musk deer in China falling to one million from about three million (in the 1950s). The population of Siberian musk deer was estimated to fall 70% in roughly a decade (from the 1980s to 1990s) due to overhunting.

Habitat destruction is another concern, with deforestation the main source of habitat loss. (Hoptner, et al., 1988; Nowak, 1999; Shusheng and Shila, 2000; Wilson and Reeder, 1993; Yang, et al., 2002)


Kari Maakestad (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Link E. Olson (editor, instructor), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


having more than one female as a mate at one time


specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Hoptner, V., A. Nasimovich, A. Bannikov, R. Hoffmann. 1988. Mammals of the Soviet Union: V1 Artiodactyla and Perissodactyla. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Libraries and The National Science Foundation.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Shusheng, G., M. Shila. 2000. Decline of musk deer in China and prospects for management. Environmental Conservation, 27(4): 323-325.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic Reference. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Yang, Q., X. Meng, L. Xia, Z. Feng. 2002. Conservation status and causes of decline of musk deer (Moschus spp.) in China. Biological Conservation, 109(3): 333-342.